Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wonderful World of Freezer Living

Home Economics: A Primer

Clarence Birdseye
In 1925 a chap named Clarence Birdseye submitted US Patent #1,773,079; a method for flash freezing foods, and utterly changed the way we eat. He sold his patents and the Birdseye name for $22 million right before the Great Depression hit in 1929 to Goldman Sachs and the Postum Company — which became General Foods Corporation.

In the early 1970s, for reasons known only to a handful of designers who had ingested a batch of really bad acid at a party, home appliances were only available in white (for squares) and avocado (for hipsters). This meant that everywhere you looked you saw a dull green, the kind nature usually reserves for edible items which have gone off and will give you a bad case of e-coli.

These two things found their perfect counterpart in the Sears Company, which produced one of the era’s most bizarre pamphlets: Wonderful World of Freezer Living. Check out the cover, on which the ghostly image of a transparent woman is superimposed upon a cornucopia of pottery and fiber. Her featureless gown looks like alien garb, and her fixed expression does nothing to bring her down to earth.

 Sears marketed their giant freezers by appealing to a housewife’s grasp of economics: instead of storage units, they were “Time Banks” in which you stockpiled leisure time futures. For every pre-packaged meal or ham hock you shoved in there, you received the potential for free time to balance life’s busy account. It’s actually a pretty complex argument that plays hard and fast with the average person’s grasp of the perceived value of opportunity.

“Each time you store food in you Coldspot freezer during the coming months and years, it will be very much like depositing money in your Bank savings account — storing it up toward some special goal. Your Coldspot freezer is a TIME Bank that lets you deposit extra time in the form of future meals prepared on the days you have time to cook, and allows you to withdraw that time later for civic or public service activities, special family outings, shopping trips — or a leisurely weekend without the drudgery of meal preparation. The time you earn by cooking and freezing good meals ahead of time will be yours to use precisely as you wish, whenever you like . . . with no penalty of thrown-together family meals to pay.”

— Jean Shaw, Director, Home Economics Lab, Sears, Roebuck and Company

You can freeze a lot of stuff, as this booklet will tell you. But the one thing you CAN'T freeze (or earn) is time. What the photo does a pretty good job of preserving is a moment in time — when housewives, giddy with freedom threw on floor-length gowns to while away the afternoon in their all-green living rooms.

Notice what’s in that freezer: no home-cooked meals there. Just Banquet TV dinners and massive slabs of raw meat. Even, if you look carefully, frozen peas.

Clarence Birdseye may have given us the freezer aisle, but most of all he was the consummate home economist: he cooked up an awful lot of dough. 

Wonderful World of Freezer Living, Sears and Roebuck Company
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